Forty years ago today, Brighton and Hove Albion were one kick from European football – and today, exactly 40 years on, they are once again just one win away.
1) Forty years ago, it rained in Brighton and Hove – and in north west London – all day until about 4.35pm. Railway staff at Brighton station, adorned in Albion top hats and scarves, didn’t worry about their paymasters saying they weren’t impartial. Thousands of fans draped scarves and banners out of slam-door trains. Platform 4 was still in use at Preston Park station.
2) Cup final Swap Shop and Cup Final Grandstand had a huge Albion badge and showed Des Lyman interviewing Jimmy Melia, Steve Foster and the late Tony Grealish on an open-top bus at Brighton Marina. The segment also showed Grealish and Foster at a joke shop near Palmeria Square, in Hove. Both wore Cup Final special player issue Albion tracksuits. You could buy one on eBay for a cool eight grand until recently. Terry Conner said it wasn’t his, allegedly.
3) Poor Steve Foster, of course, infamously had to miss out, having been booked at Notts County some three weeks earlier. This took him over the disciplinary point mark that incurred a ban. The ban was for the last league game on Saturday 14 May and Saturday 21 May 1983. Ordinarily, the ban would have been carried over for the first game of the following season but Albion had managed to get themselves in this fixture – then the most famous and eagerly anticipated game in the world bar none. Fozzie was booked in the first half at Meadow Lane and despite Albion desperately needing the points to say in the old First Division was advised by Melia via Ken Calver, the club secretary, to get himself sent off as the ban would then start a week earlier on Saturday 7 May. Foster spent the second half catching the ball, punching an opponent and calling the referee as many rude words as he could think off – even in the last five minutes literally begging the referee to send him off. But all to no avail. The Albion tried to overturn the ban in the high court on Tuesday 17 May and Wednesday 18 May but again to no avail. The judge said: “If Foster had wanted to play, he should have behaved himself in first place.” If you ever want to know where the 1983 Cup Final prize money might have gone, check out our High Court barrister’s fees. Terry Conner who joined from Leeds in March 1983 also missed out, having played for Leeds in the third round. He trained with the team all week and sat on the bench at Wembley. Neil McNab, who was still an Albion player, went on loan to Leeds in December 1982 and also played for the Yorkshire side in the third round and was also cup-tied. After Leeds’ season ended on Saturday 14 May, McNab reported back to Hove on Monday 16 May and was asked to train with the squad which he did for two days. His Leeds team mates went off to Lloret de Mar or some such place. McNab didn’t go to Wembley. Perry Digweed was also suspended for the match, having been sent off in a reserve match at the Goldstone. Former Orient and Palace keeper John Jackson, who lived in Hangleton, was signed as emergency cover in case Graham Moseley had an argument with his garden shears again. Jackson, who became goalkeeping coach under Steve Gritt in 1997, sadly passed away earlier this year.
4) We all know about helicopters, Bob the cat Bevan, how bad Neil Smillie was at golf, pictures of the squad wearing Farah slacks in front of the North Stand. But will anyone remember the rumours of John Bond taking over from Melia after the match? Brighton Tigers nearly causing a riot by raffling a match ticket and making a very handsome profit at their ice hockey fixture on Friday 20 May? The ticket was marked complimentary and not for re-sale. Nobody cared. For a few days in May 1983, Brighton and Hove went Brighton and Hove Albion mad – it’s all anyone, and I mean anyone, in the twin towns wanted to talk about. It still leaves a bitter taste that just 14 years later most of the residents except a few thousand turned their back on the club.
5) The match itself was one of the most exciting cup finals of the 20th century. The culmination of it was one of the most iconic sporting moments in history. Never listen to the late greats of Brian Moore or John Motson for Albion’s cup final commentary. Always find the mercurial and never understated Peter Jones. As Jimmy Case intercepted Arnold Muhren’s punt forward deep in extra-time – Jones was telling us Aberdeen had retained the Scottish Cup – what he said in the following 20 seconds will remain with me for the rest of my life. Because me and Gordon Smith will (and do) remember that moment for a very, very long time indeed.